3 Strategies for Dealing With Criticism of Your Creative Projects

dog chewing a book

This book is insufficiently tasty. Photo credit: “animal critic #2” by dylan Snow via flickr, licensed under CC 2.0

Sometimes you will put out a blog post or a video or a poem or whatever and someone will stop by to read (view/listen/etc) what you’ve done and then offer an opinion. Here are 3 ways to deal with (and not get derailed by) criticism.

Remember that you are not your work.

Yes, even though you spent a lot of time working on that video or poem or painting or whatever, it is not you. It’s not you any more than your shoes are you. When someone criticizes your work, try to step back, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that they are talking about your work, not you. Understanding this is the first step to getting something useful out of criticism.

Consider the source.

Where did this criticism come from? Did it come from an anonymous troll on the Internet? The Internet is full of people who take it upon themselves to dump on someone else’s creative work. (Read comments on youtube if you want to see this up close and personal.) 99% of these people don’t know what they are talking about.

Did the criticism come from a trusted peer or mentor? Okay, now you may need to think about the criticism and whether you agree with it. Even when it comes from a reliable source, however, that doesn’t mean that you should automatically do what that person says. A writer friend once said about a mutual acquaintance in our workshop, “He’s a really good reader for me. He gets what I am trying to do.” That’s the kind of feedback that could help you improve your work. Therefore you need to:

Consider the content of the feedback.

Pointless feedback:

  • Comments like “I don’t like the song you posted because I hate ukulele music” (or songs about cheese, or castanets, or [random thing]). That’s like someone saying “your recipe is terrible because it is for pizza and I hate pizza.”
  • Comments about your appearance (clothes, hairstyle, weight, ethnicity, etc. etc.). Unless you are a beauty pageant contestant, this feedback is irrelevant. (If you are a beauty pageant contestant, it’s probably still irrelevant.)
  • Comments with no real content (“I like this” or “I hate this” or “You suck”). Yes, it’s nice if somebody liked what you did, and it’s a bummer if someone hated it, but either way, you can’t do anything else based on that feedback.

Remember Mozart? One of the greatest composers that ever lived? Even he had to deal with pointless criticism (yes, I know the movie is a fictionalized version of his life).

Useful feedback:

  • Is relevant to what you are trying to do and specific: “I liked the portrait but I think the composition would be more dynamic if the subject was off-center, rather than right in the middle.”
  • Gives you something that you can do to improve your work: “I find I don’t care very much about your main character. Could you add more information about her earlier in the story?”

Tough but useful criticism is actually a compliment, because it assumes that your work is worth improving. Take heart, and remember: only you get to decide what to do with the feedback you receive.